Austin Aquarium

The Austin Aquarium is located in a North Austin strip mall in what I believe used to be one of those huge furniture stores and is a very interactive experience for kids.  I’d estimate that maybe half of their tanks are ones you can stick your hands in, the best of which is the stingray exhibit.  Apparently stingrays are very friendly as they surface often and let you pet their slimy skin.  You can also feed them if you purchase food at the door.

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There is also a bird enclosure that you can enter and hold a bird on your finger (while the rest plot to poop on your head).  Other hands-on areas include a hurricane simulator and a playground and, of course, a gift shop.

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All in all it is always a memorable outing.  What kid can forget touching their first starfish or making friends with a stingray?

The Good:  The place is relatively small so the worry about losing track of your kid is minimal.  And with the focus on interactive exhibits your little one is likely to be engaged the whole time.

The Not-So-Good:  Tickets are $14.95 per adult and $9.95 per child ages 2-11, which seems rather expensive to me.  They are less expensive if you buy online.

Overall:  Because of the cost, we don’t go as often to the Aquarium as we do to places like the Thinkery but when we do, it is always a fun afternoon

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The Austin Zoo

Actually it is called the Austin Zoo and Sanctuary, with a heavy emphasis on the sanctuary.  If you are used to a big elaborate zoo, as I am having grown up near the one in Detroit, then you need to adjust your expectations.  Many of the animals are on in their years.  Picture blind tigers, balding monkeys, lots of farm animals and birds, a train, small enclosures, and dirt pathways.  All that said, you may be surprised to hear I LOVE the Austin Zoo and here’s why . . .

The Good:  Unlike other zoos where it can be sad to see animals in their prime confined within their exhibits, at the Austin Zoo you see old, sometimes ailing, animals enjoying a cushy retirement.  You see tigers that would probably have died if still in the wild but instead are served daily buckets of raw meat which they can digest as they laze beneath the shade of a tree.  And, of course, the whole zoo isn’t a senior citizen home, last year they welcomed rescued baby bears!  In short, the zoo is small and charming … and young kids don’t notice the difference anyway.  Plus instead of being a whole day excursion like the big zoos, you can see the Austin Zoo in a couple hours.

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The Not-So-Good:  If your expectations are for a big flashy zoo, you will be out of luck.  Also if you have a specific animal you want to see, the Austin Zoo, being as small as it is, may not have it.

Overall:  The Austin Zoo is very Austin-y – quaint, quirky, and has lots of personality.

Website:  http://austinzoo.org/

The Thinkery: Austin’s Children’s Museum

I never went to the original Austin Children’s Museum downtown.  That was before our days as parents.  With all the time we spend at the Austonian, we were initially disappointed when I was pregnant, and we heard the new museum would no longer be located around the corner.  However after listening to anyone who has been to both, it seems the new Thinkery blows the old one out of the water.  It has play spaces for babies on up to kids 8+ years old.  Our son currently loves the water room which is exactly as it sounds, an elaborate water table with stations for pouring and splashing and making music.  Though smocks and crocs are provided, most kids leave this room rather wet.  I recommend bringing a change of clothes over spending lots of time in front of the dryers.

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Another favorite is the food market and chicken coop which has tons of plastic produce for collecting, sorting, weighing, and serving.

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Also top on the list is the light room (tables with interactive colored light displays), the outdoor playground with waterfall, and baby space (a soft room with mirrors, a tunnel, and displays in the floor).

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There’s so much to experience I can’t possibly describe it all here but suffice to say we enjoyed our time there so much we purchased a membership.

The Good: Everything I just talked about.

The Not-So-Good:  I’ve heard you don’t want to visit at the same time as large groups or field trips.

Overall:  We expect the Thinkery to remain a family favorite for many years to come!

Riding the Metro

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After a year of saying “we need to ride the Metro”, we finally did, just to see what the experience was like.  In fact, we made a day of it.  Ride down in the morning, Jared, Little Guy, and I, catch lunch at the Driskill, take the free tour of the State Capitol, meet up with friends, then ride the Metro home.

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Here’s the good:  The park and ride stations and the train were all very nice, clean, and comfortable.  Like all metros, it was nice to avoid rush hour traffic and to be able to do things (check email, take selfies with Little Man, etc) during the trip.

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The not-so-good:  On our ride back we were lucky to be getting on the train downtown because by the next stop, there were no seats left.  And when we exited at the Lakeline Station, there was so much congestion getting out of the parking lot, we wondered if it was enough to negate the time we had made up by taking the Metro.  If we were to ride again we would have parked at the Leander station which seems to have the least traffic and is still fairly close to our house.

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Overall:  It was a charming experience, especially for Little Guy who kept calling it “Tommy Train” after Thomas the Train.  We won’t use the Metro on a regular basis, but for a day of family fun and exploring Austin, we will definitely do this again.

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